Questions on the Malvern Special High School

Monday, December 03, 2012

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AS often happens with public sector projects, the rehabilitative school for disruptive teenagers, across from Munro College at Potsdam in the hills of Malvern, has missed completion deadlines.

When Mr Andrew Holness, education minister — later to also become prime minister — in the former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government visited the construction site last year August he said the school would be ready by the end of October 2011.

At that time, Mr Holness was reported by the Observer as saying the Malvern Special High School would not be a "remand centre, not a place where children are locked up" or a "detention centre" but would function as an environment for education and rehabilitation. The programme — which would also include several similar schools over time — would have "specialists, psychologists, counsellors, doctors and special teachers". It would serve children who were close to being evicted from school because of their behaviour or were so disruptive their teachers had "given up" on them. It would not cater to those who had already "committed themselves" in criminal acts and were due to face the courts.

Mr Holness said at the time that the concept was a response to the complaints of educators that students within their charge were beyond their capacity to manage and were undermining the educational programme within school.

The plan was to return rehabilitated boys to the regular high school system within six months.

Now, more than a year later, not only is the project incomplete, but we now hear from current Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites that he is having other thoughts.

Rev Thwaites is reported in yesterday’s Sunday Observer to be questioning whether taking disruptive boys out of their regular school to the Malvern Special High School wouldn’t be tantamount to the creation of a juvenile prison.

Rev Thwaites is reported as saying whatever programme is to be offered to the delinquent boys should be rehabilitative and would best be offered to them in their communities or in the communities where their schools are located.

Further, Mr Thwaites is backed up by consultant psychiatrist at the University Hospital of the West Indies Dr Wendel Abel, who says the programme would be of no help to troubled children and what is needed is expert counselling at the community level.

Dr Abel claims he has hard evidence for his assertion based on the work that he and others have done on the ground with 400 boys.

He goes further by saying the Ministry of Education has no legal basis to operate such an institution as the Malvern Special High School. He claims it would be in contravention of several conventions relating to children’s rights. The responsibility for such a project, he says, should be that of the Ministry of Health.

This newspaper is unable to say whether Dr Abel is right or wrong. What we can say, though, is that Government, not just politicians, but technocrats — the so-called experts — who assist in making policy need to make sure all issues are fully ventilated, ‘i’s’ are dotted and ‘t’s’ crossed, before final decisions are taken.

In the current case, we would love to know if all the contending views were explored before the initial decision to implement the rehabilitative school costing tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars. Or was it just a case of "yes, minister"?

And as seems very much on the cards, if Rev Thwaites proceeds to reverse the policy, will it be a case of meek acquiescence? What about those who endorsed the policy last year?

In the meantime, disruptive children who are badly in need of help continue to undermine the school system.

Jamaicans are sick, weary and tired of it all.




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